Evaluate your field crop on-farm research

It is time to collect data and analyze the results of your on-farm research trials and determine what added inputs or changed practices provided an economic gain for your farm.

High corn and soybean values enhance a farmer’s desire to achieve maximized economic yields. Producers are faced with decisions about whether to add additional inputs or change production practices. These might include foliar fungicides, specialized fertilizers, advanced genetic traits, seed treatments, tillage systems, planting methods, seeding rates, the use of cover crops, addition of irrigation, adoption of new technology, use of manure or countless other choices. The question is, do they really add yield and gain net profit?

The hard work of laying out replicated treatments of an additional input or a changed practice occurred this spring and summer. Now comes the equally important task of collecting good representative data. Here is a list of suggestions:

  • Take a close look at your treatments. Yield is important criteria, but not the only factor to consider. Observe differences in disease pressure, lodging, seed or grain quality and other applicable characteristics.
  • Look for odd areas in your field that appear to not be related to the treatments. Take steps to avoid variable conditions giving you misleading results.
  • If you have only one side-by-side strip or are comparing one field to another, be very careful about any conclusions you make. Many fields have variable conditions such as tile lines, soil types, compaction, etc.; a single side-by-side comparison is not sufficient. Variable conditions exist even in the most uniform fields. An excellent method to reduce these variables and to help insure that the comparison results are indeed due to the practice or product is to have several replications of the treatments.
  • Calibrate your yield monitor and use it. Another option is to utilize a weigh wagon. Contact your seed dealer, agri-business rep, or Michigan State University Extension educator to see if they have access to one. A third choice is to haul each treatment to a nearby scale. Be certain to get percent moisture readings and test weight measurements on each treatment in addition to weights.
  • Measure the length and width of your harvested area for each treatment. Convert to acres (length in feet times width in feet divided by 43,560).
  • Calculate your economic gain. Subtract the cost of the practice or the input including application costs from the value of your increased yield. Consider any other costs such as your time, environmental risk, community response, crop quality, etc.
  • If the field trial has at least three replications, run a statistical analysis on your results to determine how conclusive your data is. MSU Extension educators and specialists can assist you.
  • Compare your results with other producer’s experiences, Extension and university trials, agri-business trials and the promoted anticipated results.
  • Plan your action for next year. It may take multiple years of information before you can be certain of the value of the input or practice.

Michigan field crop Extension educators work with farmers on a regular basis in conducting on-farm trials. Each year, the results of dozens of trials are shared statewide through the Field Crops Team On-Farm Research and Demonstration report. This report has been sponsored by the Michigan Soybean Promotion Committee and the Corn Marketing Program of Michigan. It is available at most MSU Extension county offices.

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